Orca Pharmaceuticals, and AstraZeneca embarked on a three year collaboration to develop inhibitors of retinoic acid-related orphan nuclear receptor gamma (RORγ). Inhibitors of this receptor are believed to have potential against a wide range of autoimmune diseases for which there is currently no safe, orally available and effective treatment.

RORγ plays a key role in the immune system. Specifically, it helps to convert a population of immune cells (CD4+ T) cells into T-helper 17 cells (TH17) which, in turn, produce cytokines that drive the immune response. However, excessive activity of TH17 cells and other RORγ+ immune cells have been implicated in a wide range of autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will gain access to RORγ inhibitors developed by Orca Pharmaceuticals and will integrate these into its in-house programme. Working together, scientists from AstraZeneca and Orca Pharmaceuticals will identify lead compounds from this programme for progression and characterize the autoimmune condition to which the lead compounds are best suited. Orca Pharmaceuticals will receive an upfront and milestone payment from AstraZeneca dependent on the success of their RORγ inhibitors with a potential total value of €107.8M. AstraZeneca has the option to acquire Orca’s compounds at the end of the collaboration.

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Dr. Michael Hunter, CEO and Co-Founder of Orca Pharmaceuticals said: “We are delighted that AstraZeneca has recognized the potential of the Orca programme in a space where the identification of inhibitors with drug-like properties has proven challenging. To have the backing and experience of AstraZeneca makes this programme even more competitive as we move forward to deliver best-in-class medicines in this area.

Immunology is certainly a hot area right now, with several partnerships in the autoimmune disease’s field. I already talked about the collaboration between Lead Pharma and Sanofi. The competition is just beginning…

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